Electronics begin to bend

Flexible electronics have many potential applications such as bendable displays, sensitive fingerprint scanners or smart t-shirts – the signature product of PLUSMINUS Electronics Lab established by the nanotechnology center SYGMA.Novosibirsk, a platform for the development of innovative tech startups. CEO Svyatoslav Vensky explained how such electronics are made and what projects the company is working on.

Svyatoslav Vensky, 27, a process engineer at SYGMA.Novosibirsk, is the founder and CEO of several companies implementing science and technology projects.

PLUSMINUS is the youngest of his projects, only 1.5 years old. Yet, the company became known internationally after Svyatoslav spoke at the Science Slam held as part of the Technoprom International Technology Forum in August 2018, where he presented his new electronics manufacturing technology and a smart t-shirt. Vensky’s company makes flexible electronics based not on the conventional silicon, but on a plastic substrate. The manufacturing technology is the same as with silicon, only the material is different.

Plastic-based electronics is used primarily in flexible solar displays that can be used as wallpaper, as well as in sensors on “smart” clothing that monitor the wearer’s health markers.

Svyatoslav demonstrated the smart t-shirt with plastic sensors at the Science Slam after his talk. The t-shirt was made of tight-fitting spandex. The sensors on a plastic base layer, invented by the scientist’s team for measuring heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, ECG parameters, counting movements during exercise, etc. were embedded into the fabric. The sensors transmit data to a special app for smart phones that PLUSMINUS Electronics Lab developed based on an electronic platform for various measurements.

The smart t-shirts were created for athletes but in the future, the company plans to upgrade the module so that t-shirts could be used for monitoring medical patients.

A flexible screen is another well-known invention by PLUSMINUS. The screen works on electronic ink like e-books and shows 4,000 color shades. The plastic base layer allows it to be bent or rolled into a wide pipe. It is impossible to watch video on such a screen yet. Right now, it is only suitable for static information such as notices, advertising and price tags in stores.

However, PLUSMINUS Electronics Lab plans to improve its design up to the level when the screen can show video and be installed on tablets and smart phones.

Overall, PLUSMINUS Electronics Lab is engaged in developing electronic devices and software on a contractual basis. The company employs 15 people: engineers, web developers, software developers and designers, and constantly searches for new people; many employees work remotely.

According to Svyatoslav Vensky, PLUSMINUS works in four development clusters: robotics, wearable electronic devices, e-paper and new inventions. The most popular robotic invention is a robot that replaces display staff by placing goods on shelves, and a logistics robot which transports shelves and containers.

Wearable electronic devices are represented by the smart T-shirt; the e-paper cluster includes a fingerprint scanner and medical measuring equipment. Among the new developments are a circulation bath, energy accumulation system and a neuro-headset.

The company develops solutions by request: Svyatoslav and his team accept orders from organizations and often help their clients to find exactly what they need.

The full cycle of contractual development includes several stages. A client formulates his requirements and discusses statements of work, deadlines and costs with developers; together, they decide as to what the device or a program will be like. Next stages include designing the product, developing a prototype, and gradual implementation of statements of work with continuous testing, adjustments and design updates. In case a product needs certification, the company issues it and conducts testing in special laboratories. If a client has ordered serial production, PLUSMINUS Electronics Lab specialists develop  corresponding documents and prepare the product for serial manufacturing. Initially, the company manufactures a small pilot batch of the product; upon all adjustments, a full-scale serial production starts.

A product takes between five days and six months to make depending on the project’s scale and complexity. The cost varies as well. According to Svyatoslav, the least expensive project took two weeks to finish and cost RUR 10,000 ($136), a payment for carsharing service. The most expensive order brought a profit of over RUR 3 mio ($40.9K).    

By Christina Firsova

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